Your dog means the world to you, so it makes sense that you do whatever you can to keep them healthy and happy. However, what you may not fully realize is the importance of your dog's gut. Poor digestive health is at the forefront of many conditions. Luckily, the majority of the time a healthy gut and digestive system means a healthy pup. So how can you ensure that Fido's digestive health is at its very best? One of the easiest ways is through probiotics.
In this article, we aim to inform our readers about the importance of a healthy digestive system and provide a detailed guide for incorporating probiotics into your dog's diet.
What are Probiotics For Dogs?
The word probiotics literally translates to "for life." The word originates from the Latin preposition pro meaning “for” and the Greek word bios meaning “life.”
Probiotics are vital microorganisms that live in various parts of your dog’s body, including:
- The gastrointestinal tract
- The oral cavity
- Nasal cavity
- Respiratory organs
- On the surface of the skin
Probiotics are often referred to as "good bacteria." You may be aware that not all bacteria is harmful. In fact, your dog needs certain bacteria in order to stay healthy. Probiotics are the "good" kind of bacteria and mimic the naturally occurring bacteria that is already living in the body. We can reap the benefits of probiotics when they are present in certain foods we eat such as yogurt, tempeh, and cheese or through synthetically formulated probiotics.
Either way, it is incredibly important that there is a healthy balance of good vs. bad bacteria in your dog's body.
What Do Probiotics Do?
Probiotics play a key role in helping your gut stay as healthy as it possibly can. The digestive tract is at the forefront of keeping your body functioning properly. In fact, digestive tract health affects nearly every other process that occurs within the body. Remarkably, the food you eat and how your body digests it can even affect cognitive function as well as mood. That’s where probiotics come into play. Probiotics focus on gut health, specifically on improving digestion so that the food you eat is broken down in a proper and effective way that allows for the nutrients to absorb and work appropriately.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Probiotics are healthy, beneficial bacteria that are, in fact, live organisms. Typically of the Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus groups and their various species, the live organisms help to balance the good and bad bacteria that live within the gut. It may surprise you as to just how easy it is for good and bad bacteria to become unbalanced in the body. Bad bacteria can outweigh good bacteria due to illness, having an unbalanced diet, or because of antibiotic treatment. It's unfortunately relatively easy for bad bacteria to take over. That's why probiotics are so important.
Dog Probiotics Vs. Human Probiotics
There are some pet supply companies that manufacture probiotics that are specifically formulated for dogs. With that said, many human probiotics are entirely safe for dog consumption. The dose, however, will vary. Additionally, many probiotics for humans come in a swallowable pill form. If you've ever had to give your dog a pill then you know what a challenge it can be. For this reason, many pet owners may choose to purchase chewable probiotic supplements for Fido. As always, we recommend consulting with your vet in regards to the appropriate dose for your dog's individual needs.
Probiotics Benefits for Dogs
Just like their benefits for humans, dog probiotics can provide Fido with a slew of health advantages. Take a look at all of the ways probiotics can help your four-legged friend.
- Calming irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Treating diarrhea or constipation
- Calming an upset stomach
- Improving overall digestion
- Preventing urinary tract infections
- Preventing allergies or soothing their symptoms
- Regulating moods and behaviors
- Supporting the immune system
- Regulating appetite and weight
Additionally, your dog doesn't have to be facing any current ailments in order to benefit from probiotics. In fact, just about any dog can benefit from a probiotic supplement. Furthermore, studies are finding that probiotics may also help for aging dogs by supporting the immune system and helping to prevent illnesses from developing.
Does My Dog Need Probiotics?
Most dogs don't necessarily "need" a probiotic supplement. However, as we previously mentioned, just about every dog can benefit from probiotics. If your dog is currently facing a present ailment, your veterinarian may recommend a higher dosage. (This is why we always recommend consulting with your vet!) Additionally, we want to mention that if the bad bacteria in your dog's gut is greater than the amount of good bacteria, it is imperative to understand why. Simply adding probiotics will not entirely correct the underlying problem. Again, talk to your vet regarding why your dog's bacteria may be unbalanced and work to correct the problem from the inside, out.
Furthermore, if your dog has any of the following illnesses, it is very likely that they do in fact need a probiotic supplement implemented into their life:
- Allergies to food or the environment
- An infection or virus
- A change to a new food
- Parasitic infection
- Use of an antibiotic or other medication that affects the body’s natural flora
- Stress due to a new environment or situation
If you know that your dog is going to experience some form of change that will likely cause digestive upset, experts recommend starting a probiotic supplement a few days beforehand. These changes include switching dog food as well as traveling or moving. Dogs are highly sensitive animals. If something is stressing you out, chances are, it's also stressing Fido out. A probiotic supplement is a great way to manage the associated digestive systems of stress and anxiety.
Probiotics Side Effects
When given in the appropriate dosage, probiotics typically don’t cause many side effects. However, too many probiotics can throw your dogs system out of whack. If too large of a probiotic supplement is given, extreme diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting may occur. Additionally, is important to monitor probiotic intake with dogs that have weakened immune systems.
Furthermore, probiotics can have the ability to multiply too rapidly. This can lead to inflammation or infection. Luckily, the vast majority of issues that may be caused by dog probiotics can be prevented. Not to sound like a broken record, but it is important to consult with your veterinarian regarding the appropriate dosage in order to prevent any side effects from occurring.
Types of Probiotics for Dogs
There are a few different types of probiotics. Most of the time, your veterinarian will recommend giving your dog a probiotic supplement that’s made specifically formulated for dogs. Typically the supplement will be in either chewable or powder form. (Pills and dogs generally don't go hand in hand and the manufacturers kept this in mind when formulating their probiotics for canines)
It is important to note that each type of probiotic can help your dog in a different way. Therefore, choosing the right probiotic for your dog's individual needs can be a bit tricky.
Top Probiotic for Dogs
The best probiotic for your dog will depend on your dog's individual needs.
One of the most common groups of probiotics for dogs is known as Lactobacillus. The Lactobacillus probiotic helps to increase nutrient absorption thus allowing your dog to receive the most out of their meals. The Lactobacillus probiotic also helps prevent digestive upset such as diarrhea and nausea all while ensuring that your dog gets plenty of vitamins and nutrients from their food.
Another common probiotic group is referred to as Bifidobacterium. Bifidobacterium helps to boost your dog's overall health and support the immune system. This is particularly beneficial for dogs that are recovering from an illness as well as dogs who have weakened immune systems due to aging. The probiotic group is known to lessen symptoms and help make the illness less severe.
A supplement referred to as Purina FortiFlora is one of the most recommended probiotic supplements. Purina FortiFlora produces antioxidants to boost the immune system while helpful bacteria support the dog’s intestinal tract.
Before jumping on the supplement bandwagon, we recommend trying to implement probiotics in the form of natural food. Of course, this may not be an option for dog parents who have a pup that is refusing to eat (that's where supplements come in handy). However, if your dog has a healthy appetite, we suggest trying out the following natural probiotic options.
Kimchi and Fermented Veggies
Kimchi and fermented veggies are a great way to ensure that your pup is receiving a healthy dose of natural probiotics. Interestingly enough, fermented food mimic the gut contents of prey. The fermentation process multiplies the good, beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are naturally found in food.
Raw Goat Milk
Another great option is raw goat's milk. Raw goat's milk is typically safe for dogs (check with your vet if you're unsure) and contains a bountiful amount of naturally-occurring probiotics. It also has a very small amount of lactose which therefore causes very little (if any) digestive upset differing it significantly from cow's milk. Due to the rise in popularity, many pet food stores now carry raw goat milk.
Additionally, kefir made with raw goat's milk is another great option for picky eaters. Kefir is packed with natural probiotics and makes for a beneficial topper on your dog's balanced meal. You can find kefir at your local grocery store but make sure that it is unsweetened!
Also, may pet parents enjoy making their own kefir. We've included a recipe for coconut milk kefir below!
Coconut Milk Kefir Recipe
- 2 to 4 Tbsp of milk kefir grains
- 4 cups of coconut milk (or 2 cans of coconut milk)
- Place the milk kefir grains with the coconut milk in a half gallon glass mason jar
- Cover lightly and leave at room temperature for at least 12 hours (this is where the fermentation takes place)
- After 12 hours, taste the kefir to determine if it has reached the desired level of fermentation
- Strain out the milk kefir grains and add new coconut milk and repeat the entire process
- Store the fermented coconut milk kefir in your refrigerator
Finally, one of the easiest ways to ensure that your beloved four-legged friend is getting probiotics is just to allow them to be a dog. Playing in dirt allows for soil based microorganisms into the dog's system.
Allowing your dog to play around in nature is a simple, effective way to help your dog naturally build up their immune system.
Finding the Best Probiotic Supplement for Dogs
We understand that all natural probiotic supplements in food form may not work for everything. If this is the case, there are still some important things to be aware of.
There are a few things that you should look for on the probiotics label in order to ensure that you're purchasing the best supplement.
First, you want to look at the list of specific probiotics that the product contains. This includes strain identification. There are several probiotic strains of bacteria and each strain do something different. Some strains have anti-inflammatory effects while others are better immune stimulants. More strains or different forms of bacteria are not necessarily better probiotics. This is because they work against one another. Most of the probiotics that work well have single strains.
Next, you'll want to look at the guaranteed analysis of how many live bacteria will exist at the end of the shelf life. It’s entirely possible that by the time you purchase the product, all of the probiotics inside may have died. This is why a guaranteed analysis is so important.
Finally, make sure to look at the use-before date.
Did You Know That Probiotics Need Prebiotics?
More fun information! Many pet parents may not know that probiotics need prebiotics. Probiotics are a little different than prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food that probiotics to eat. Prebiotics come from the carbohydrates in food and supply probiotics with the nourishment they need to thrive in the digestive tract. Feeding prebiotics along with probiotics provides your dog with something known as symbiotics.
Symbiotic refers to a beneficial interaction between two separate things. Prebiotics and probiotics create an ideal coupling and work together in order to provide your dog with exactly what their body needs.
Types of Prebiotics
Adding the following prebiotics to your dog's diet can help tremendously.
- Green leafy veggies (dandelion leaves are especially good)
All of the foods listed except for garlic can be given in any amount seen fit. Garlic, while totally safe in appropriate amounts, does need to be monitored. Pet owners should feed Fido fresh, organic US-grown garlic. Dogs can consume up to 1 tsp per 30 lbs weight per day.
Administering the Probiotic Effectively and Efficiently
A veterinarian will be able to give you specific instructions and dosage requirements based on your dog's weight and dietary needs. Your vet will also be able to provide you with helpful tips for administering the probiotic. For instance, you may want to purchase a probiotic powder supplement and mix it in with your dog's food when first integrating the supplement.
A great feature of probiotics is that they typically begin working right away. Of course, for the dog to digest the probiotic and have it enter their gut can take several hours. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that some dogs may take a couple of days for their digestive system to balance and for the probiotic to really start working. Long-term effects may take up to a few weeks for pet owners to see a noticeable change.
Finally, as with all things new, we recommend starting slowly. There’s no need to rush the process when it comes to implementing a probiotic supplement into your dog's life. The last thing that you want to do is cause more harm than good and upset your dog's gastrointestinal tract in the process. Patience is key.
Probiotics for Dogs: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your four-legged companion. We get it. Here at Honest Paws, we are all dog owners and pet lovers. Therefore, we know just how hard it can be when something is "off" with Fido.
What many pet parents don't realize is just how important gut health truly is. So many conditions begin with an unhealthy gut, and many of these illnesses are difficult to reverse once they develop. Luckily, adding a probiotic supplement can make a world of difference for Fido.
Adding a probiotic supplement is an easy and effective way to balance the good and bad bacteria in your dog's gut. Remember, bad bacteria will always exist, and that's ok! As long as there is a healthy balance, you can be sure that your dog's body is staying healthy and functioning at its optimal level.
Chelsea Rivera is a holistic pet wellness expert and writer. She manages written content for Honest Paws - a company that specializes in CBD oil for dogs and cats.
Additionally, she is the founder and lead writer for SimpleWag, which focuses on holistic wellness and natural alternatives for dogs. She spends her days creating content, catching up on emails, and being bossed around by her 5 lb. Maltipoo, Baby Rose.